Browns President Mike Holmgren gave in to fan and media pressure this week by stating that he was going to provide greater personal access to the former through the latter. He stated that he hated what he perceived as interference by the team president when he was a coach, which is why he had remained in the background since coming to Cleveland.
Holmgren also made it clear that he expects a significant jump in victories this year — a significant decrease would be nearly impossible. The Browns finished 4-12 in their first season under coach Pat Shurmur after compiling successive 5-11 records with Eric Mangini roaming the sidelines. That the lack of an offseason prevented the first-year coach from maximizing his job performance cannot be denied. Neither can the fact that the Browns boasted the worst offensive talent in the NFL, particularly when the ground game ground to a halt.
There will be no excuses in 2012, which is not necessarily fair to Shurmur. The schedule is exceptionally tough — the Browns are early underdogs in all 16 games. They will be starting a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden and remain unquestionably weak at wide receiver. Outside linebacker Scott Fujita has been suspended for the first three games and defensive tackle Phil Taylor will miss at least half the season with a pectoral injury. The Browns have done nothing in the offseason to address a porous run defense.
Loyal Browns fans, who continue to sell out home games despite historic futility on the field, heralded the arrival of Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert with great fanfare and optimism. Heckert has done a credible job in the draft, but the results have yet to be shown. The Browns won just four games last season with one of the easiest schedules in the league.
The gesture by Holmgren this week can be interpreted in part as placing Shurmur on the hot seat. The Big Show cannot make himself available to the media, with all the scrutiny his words will receive, and continue to tolerate losing. One wonders just how much improvement the Browns must make in 2012 for Shurmur to keep his job. One also wonders if Holmgren, who emphasized he wants to retire only after turning the franchise around, will indeed remain in his post if marked improvement is not made this year.
Holmgren has been a success — a borderline Hall of Famer — throughout his career in Green Bay and Seattle. Cleveland has already proven to be his toughest nut to crack. The Browns are so steeped in a losing tradition since returning to Cleveland in 1999 that it seems tough to imagine them as a contender.
If it doesn’t happen in the next few years, it’s unlikely Holmgren or Shurmur will still be around to continue fighting a losing battle.